Challenges of the Innovative Mind, Part 3 – Sal J Kitololo

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Challenges of the Innovative Mind, Part 3
We’re continuing an examination of the unique challenges of the innovative mind. I’ve said and repeated, “MASTERING THESE CHALLENGES could turn a moderate innovator into a creative innovator par excellence.” In this post we’ll look at a few more challenges of being an innovator in the 21st century and beyond.

The Challenge of “Suffering Long”

Innovation can in some cases be a very long process. Either it can mean long hours or many years before the innovation begins to see the light of day. Sometimes the innovation can remain in obscurity for a long period before emerges into the limelight. Innovation then isn’t for the impatient but the persistent.

In addition to simple patience, the innovator or team often finds itself under varied types of psychological, financial, social or other pressures – sometimes all of these combined – and needs to keep working under these conditions. This means that in addition to persistence the innovator’s character requires endurance/perseverance.

This is not to say the innovator has a horrible terrible miserable undesirable life. On the contrary, the innovator enjoys the exciting prospect of working on cutting edge and avant garde projects; projects of passion and novelty. The innovator experiences much more freedom to be creative and to go in unexpected directions. Most visionaries are constrained by the vision that inspires and drives them and cannot veer from its dictates. Innovators experience more freedom in this respect; their main constraint is their passion to accomplish their goal. There’s a lot more freedom in how they accomplish this.

Still innovation carries with it the challenge of enduring uncomfortable situations and circumstances for long periods of times; sometimes this is just the discomfort of exercising discipline for long periods without respite or result. Sometimes it’s just enduring the ridicule or alienation of doing something a different way from convention. One way or the other innovation tends to require this characteristic in its champions: the ability to “suffer long”.

The Challenge of Ordinariness

In our generation, perhaps in every generation, we expect our leaders and our creative people to be heroes and champions. We prefer them to be larger than life. Sometimes this hero-profile is what attracts ambitious young individuals to lives of leadership or creativity. Somehow as it goes, most visionaries do tend to be larger than life, whether flamboyant or eccentric or just brilliant individuals. They seem sometimes to absorb some of the magnificence of their vision into their personality. Even close up, successful visionaries seem to be singular individuals in one way or another. This is not so for most innovators.

While what the innovator accomplishes is impressive, sometimes uncannily so, when we come close up to her or him we usually find quite an ordinary person. Usually if there’s any distinctive trait (apart from discipline, persistence etc) to the creative innovator it is an excessive amount of energy[1]. Otherwise the creative innovators methods and approaches seem quite accessible to the average person; this is a challenge to the person hoping for the extraordinary and the strange and the prestige of the hero-profile. In the field of innovation it is the determination and persistence to innovate that produce the results rather than some otherworldly celebrity quality that the ambitious sometimes shoot for.

A peripheral aspect of this challenge is that hero-worshipers may gather “at the feet” of the innovator hoping to see something deific and be disappointed by the somewhat common manner of the innovator(s) they’ve come to admire. It becomes the role of the innovator to endure the fact that she/he is disappointing fans by showing them the ordinary but effective when they came for an exhibition of the fantastic or of entertaining escape. To some extent by meeting the Challenge of Forms and Beauty it is possible to give a bit of the excitement fans are looking for through well-designed and exciting products, projects or presentations. Still innovators always cast a largely human and ordinary shadow in comparison with the extraordinary splendour usually accompanying visionaries.

“Impractical” Insight

This is the last challenge of the innovative mind we shall touch on. Of course there are many other challenges we’ve not mentioned; as stated in an earlier post, we examined just some of the major obstacles the innovator will likely wrestle with on the path to achieving true and value-creating innovation.

By impractical insight I refer to the tendency of the innovative mind to attach importance to elements or aspects of a project or product that seem irrelevant or peripheral to everyone else. A quick example is Steve Jobs’ long time “obsession” with aesthetics. Now it is obviously central to his innovative mission, but from the beginning of his illustrious journey he harped on this issue of aesthetics – for very long, no one but him saw the importance of this apparent “pet” concern of his. Now we know the iMac, iBook, iPod and iPhone owe a lot of their success to their aesthetic/design excellence.

Innovators have these “obsessive” pet concerns that seem impractical to their teams or others around them. They insist these things are of central importance, and before creative innovators accomplish notable “exploits” in their fields, their concerns seem foolish or at best eccentric or impractical. In time these “impractical insights” come to be viewed as a kind of genius. So initially when the creative innovator harps and rants on an aspect that seems unimportant or unrelated to the goal being pursued, both she/he and the team need to recognise that this “impracticality” is a central way in which the innovative mind functions; the innovative mind sees a centrality of facets that isn’t obvious to everyone. What is more, the innovator “crusades” for these aspects with heated passion.

The challenge then is to keep up the conviction that these “impractical” insights are relevant and necessary; in time everyone else will come around. This requires a tenacity and self-belief that become necessary to creative character.

In the next post or 2, we’ll take our exploration of creative innovation back into the territory of contrasting creative visionaries and creative innovators, their ways and approaches. We’ll examine the innovator’s course of death and rebirth versus the visionary’s tendency of preserving and rescuing. We’ll look at how these opposing orientations define further the 2 types of creativity. As Gilles Peterson likes to say “welcome along”.

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Last modified: February 6, 2018